“The safest road to Hell is the gradual one”

December 4, 2013

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In The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape warns his nephew to nurture his human patient’s burgeoning apostasy very slowly, lest he awaken within him a “sense of his real position” and cause him to repent. For that reason, small sins are often better than large ones.

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.[†]

I’m thinking about this in relation to the Grinch, the subject of this Sunday’s “Reel Christmas” sermon. Why does the Whos happiness bother the Grinch so much? He complains about all the noise they make in their revelry, and he might have a point: For all we know, the Whos are inconsiderate neighbors. If they can’t keep the noise down, can they at least invite the Grinch to celebrate with them?

And we can sympathize with the Grinch for other reasons. After all, the humanoid Whos have one another for company. Except for his faithful, put-upon dog, he’s alone in the world. Where are the other Grinch-like creatures? It’s easy to imagine that he’s faced hardship, adversity, and injustice, which have helped to shape him into this creature. So let’s walk a mile in his shoes before we judge him too harshly.

Still, just think: some tiny seed of righteous indignation took root in his soul and blossomed into a devilish kind of anger. While it will soon motivate him to commit the “big” sin of stealing the Whos‘ Christmas presents, it started out small—small but sinful.

This resonates with me: As I’ve said on this blog and in a recent sermon, I’ve been coming to grips this year with the extent of my own anger. I used to wear it like a badge—like it was a wellspring of hidden strength. Now I see it for what it is: pure, ugly, destructive sin.

I am the Grinch.

† C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters,” in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperOne, 2002), 220.

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